Renaissance calligraphy books

Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter S
John Scottowe, Alphabet of Ornamental Capitals, Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter S
Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter T
John Scottowe, Alphabet of Ornamental Capitals, Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter T
Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter M
John Scottowe, Alphabet of Ornamental Capitals, Wing MS ZW 545 .S431, letter M
Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, title page
Esther Inglis, A New Yeeres Guift, Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, title page
Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 6
Esther Inglis, A New Yeeres Guift, Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 6
Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 11
Esther Inglis, A New Yeeres Guift, Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 11
Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 19
Esther Inglis, A New Yeeres Guift, Wing MS ZW 645 .K29, page 19

This week, I want to spotlight two of the Renaissance gems of the Newberry collection, both English manuscript calligraphy books. During the Renaissance, calligraphic manuals helped their owners to master the elegant handwriting valued by humanists while also imparting moral instruction.

Please note that if you click on the images to the left, a larger version will pop up (this is true of images throughout the Newberry’s new website).

The first calligraphy book was written in 1592 by John Scottowe (Wing MS ZW 545 .S431). The book presents a calligraphic alphabet, each letter forming an elaborately decorated initial beginning a moral adage or other text, some in English and some in Latin, each in a different script. We use an image from this book, the letter I, at the top of our main blog page and also on our main Center for Renaissance Studies web page. Our 2011-12 fall and spring brochures are also illustrated with Scottowe images (with the letters S and M, and T and I, respectively).

As you can see from the images posted here, the initials are delightful, often taking the form of grotesque beasts or incorporating human faces and bodies. Others include a riot of geometric patterns or acanthus leaves and other flora. The letter T warns the reader solemnly that “The havinge of riches is not so commodious. As the departing frome them is grievous, saithe Hermes.” The letter M, formed of two interlaced fish swallowing their own tails, more succinctly reminds us “Measure is treasure.”

Nothing much is known about this book’s author; some pages are dedicated to dignitaries from Nottingham, so it is reasonable to assume Scottowe worked in that area. He also decorates his Q with a military drummer, and instead of the usual maxim he gives the Queen of England’s full titles. Clearly Scottowe understood the importance of flattering patrons, current or prospective.

The second calligraphy book was written by Esther Inglis in 1606-07 (Wing MS ZW 645 .K29). This beautiful, tiny handmade book demonstrates the achievements of educated women of seventeenth-century England. Inglis was born in France of Huguenot parents who fled to Scotland when she was a child. She created many similar books, some fifty-nine of which survive, two at the Newberry. Her mother, Marie Presot, was an accomplished calligraphic scribe as well, and the only signed specimen of her work also resides in the Newberry collection.

Each of Inglis’s works was made for a specific patron, usually a leading noblewoman. This Newberry edition is dedicated to “the Right Honorable and Vertuous Lady the Lady Arskene of Dirltoun.” As with the Scottowe book, each page in the Inglis manuscript contains an instructional proverb, these all in English. Inglis is particularly noted as a miniaturist, and each page of this book—just over three inches by four inches in size—is written in a different script of varying degrees of petiteness. Instead of using decorated initials, Inglis illustrates most pages with delicate flowers and birds, reminiscent of the fine illuminated manuscripts produced in Ghent and Bruges a century earlier.

We’ve used an image from the Inglis book to illustrate our web page detailing our Newberry Renaissance Consortium Grants. The text seemed appropriate for a page about funding, especially funding for academic pursuits: “Blessed is the man that findeth wisdome, and the man that getteth understanding. For the merchandise therof is better then merchandise of silver.”

Posted by Karen Christianson.


Really good imaging!
Thank you so much! This is a fantastic idea and I really look forward to faithfully reading the blog and sharing it with my classes. Already a favorite!
This blog is a great idea: thanks!


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